Monday, January 3, 2011

How To Write a Query Letter

Susie Sheehey

By Susan Sheehey

I submitted my query letter to and asked one of their resident experts to critique my letter in their monthly Query Writing 101 series. Please read the interesting suggestions she gave for my query letter. Hopefully it will help others in crafting theirs.

Query Writing 101

Writer C.J. Redwine is back for another installment of Query Writing 101. This month, C.J. has chosen a letter from Susan Sheehey. Thanks to C.J. and Susan! Readers, feel free to post questions for C.J.

Ms. CJ Redwine, (You’ll want to say “Dear” first.)

If you discovered your husband was a criminal, would you try to protect the love of your life, or would you turn him in? Which would you choose if protecting him could cost you your life, but turning him in could cost you your career? (I strongly recommend you don’t start your query with questions. I’ve seen many agents who don’t care for this, and you run the risk of turning a reader off instantly if they decide they don’t care about the answer.)

In “Under the Covers,” DEA agent, (delete comma) Clara O’Cleary (deep undercover) strives to dismantle the notorious Irish Outfit, and must keep her professional life secret from her husband, Caleb. (This gives me instant story set-up, which is awesome. But I have no idea who Clara really is, besides her occupation. What makes her tick? Why is she willing to pursue this dangerous mission? How does she feel about keeping secrets from her hubby? Give us a peek into her character to help us instantly connect with her even as you deliver your awesome story set-up.) But as Clara dives further into her undercover case, Caleb shows heart-wrenching signs of infidelity, straining her once-passion enthralled (Move the hyphen so it reads “once passion-enthralled”) marriage into a dysfunctional relationship. Clara utilizes her investigative skills and the support and humor of her girlfriends to uncover the truth of his infidelity. But she’s not prepared when she discovers Caleb has more dangerous secrets of his own, jeopardizing her undercover position, and her life. Now she must find how to save her case and keep from being targeted, while saving her marriage in the process. This is good, but I feel like your last sentence falls flat in the first half. Can you make the stakes sound a bit more dangerous and exciting? Give her ACTION verbs instead of “must find out how.” Maybe she must rescue her case, AND her marriage, while trying to stay one step ahead of a crime syndicate who wants her dead?

“Under the Covers” is a completed 70,000 word contemporary romance set in Dallas, where a married, undercover federal agent dodges the dangerous machinations of a vicious crime syndicate, while uncovering the secrets of her husband and  trying to rekindle the passion in their estranged relationship. (Cut everything after “set in Dallas.” You’re summarizing what you just told us. No repetition needed.) This story is targeted for the Contemporary Romance or Romantic Suspense genres. Okay, is this targeted for a specific line at Harlequin? Because if so, your word count makes sense and you can fine-tune this last sentence to reflect which line you’re currently querying. If not, then pick a genre and stick to it. And if you’re looking at romantic suspense outside a Harlequin line, 70k is really low. You need to aim for 80-95k then.

I am a new stay-at-home mother after six years in a full-time sales position. I belong to the Greater Fort Worth Writer’s Group in the Dallas area and have been a long-time enthusiast of romance fiction novels. I am impassioned by and love writing intricate storylines with intriguing twists and realistic characters (including their flaws). We don’t need the last sentence. You’d be amazed how many writers say pretty much the same thing and instead of making you stand out, this makes you blend in.

Per your submission guidelines, I have included the first chapter of the manuscript. Please let me know if you would like to see the full manuscript and I will happily send it. I appreciate your time and thank you for considering ‘Under the Covers.’

Overall, this is a very well-written query. Good luck with your submissions!

About Susan:
Susan is a full time fiction writer with a background in Medical Distrubution sales. She is a member of Greater Fort Worth Writers and serves as secretary for the group. In addition, she is married and  mother of two year old Caden. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think I agree with CJ Redwine with “don’t start your query with questions,” and I’d even go one step further -- scoot over to a first person voice --

“I discovered my husband was a criminal as well as the love of my life. That’s what Under the Covers is about. Protecting that man or turning him in. Risking my career or maybe my life.”

CJ suggests you to “Cut everything after ‘set in Dallas,’” but she’s not inclined to offer a more engaging substitute. As a reader, I’d opt for less words with more mystery. “‘Under the Covers’ is a completed 70,000 word contemporary romance novel staged in the southwestern United States; one spouse tied to a crime syndicate, and the other is an undercover federal agent. Both have strong ties to their Irish heritage; ties they are reluctant to reveal.”

Most important sentence in my notes...”Disregard everything I have to say about query letters.” George

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